A year without genius of Jobs


A year after the death of Steve Jobs, the enigmatic boss of Apple, that poster child of innovation continues to dominate the headlines.

Is Apple a better company with or without Jobs? How does his successor, Tim Cook, compare? Is Apple going to run out of ideas when the projects Jobs was working on are completed?

Jobs has been compared to Ford, Edison and Tesla – empire-building men who changed society .

After the one-year anniversary of the great business leader’s death last week, there have been the usual hand-wringing articles about Jobs. Like him or not, the man had a major effect on six industries and forever changed computing.

Many men have changed their field, but not as many as Jobs: personal computers (the Mac), portable music (iPod and iTunes), cinema animation (Pixar) and telecoms (iPhone). He also helped launch the apps economy and created the next generation of computing, the tablet, with the iPad.

But, as Walter Isaacson’s unflinching biography revealed, he was a nasty, sometimes petty person, whose treatment of staff (of other human beings) belied all the other noble spiritual things he claimed to be striving for.

As clear as he was about products , his delusional belief in starvation and obscure diets hastened his death from cancer. The man who proudly claimed never to need consumer research refused to adopt conventional treatments.

There are as many arguments for how Apple broke cardinal rules of business (and humanity) to achieve what he did (including breaking contracts and putting other firms out of business), as there are for how his single-minded vision, his insane self-belief that he was right, produced the company that Apple is today.

The man was undoubtedly gifted: he solved problems, was imbued with a self-belief that made him know he was right when others were not, and trusted his vision.

His resurrection of Apple from near bankruptcy to the most valued company in the world has assured him of greatness.

The profound and somewhat disturbing truth is that Jobs himself practised the same plagiarism that his company has accused others of. His famous 1979 visit to Xerox’s Parc labs resulted in Apple adopting the graphic-user interface and mouse that years later he would accuse Microsoft (repeatedly) of copying.

Jobs apologists like to point out that Apple improved on both – but immediately shut down any discussion of Microsoft doing something similar with Windows, which frankly reached a much wider audience and spurred personal computing growth in an exponential way that Apple did not.

My father often told me the story of how Picasso, while visiting other Parisian artists in their studios or discussing painting in cafes, often borrowed techniques for which he became famous.

There is an anti-Picasso glorification movement much like the one that still hounds Jobs’s legacy.

Both are probably true, but both men changed the world and will be applauded for it forevermore.

Jobs took credit for his staff’s improvements (including many from the man whose styling was central to Apple’s resurgence, Sir Johnny Ives).

The debate, like that around Picasso, who was arguably one of the greatest artists in human history, will continue for decades.

Steven P Jobs was a genius who saw a future for technology and single-mindedly pursued it – often at the expense of his staff, competitors and, ultimately, his own health.

Like him or not, he changed the world, irrevocably and ultimately for the better.

This column first appeared in The Times on 7 October.


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